M2M SIMs have the potential to make devices, businesses, and even entire industries smarter and more efficient.
For the past decade, SIM cards have made it convenient for users of wireless devices to connect to the ‘Global System of Mobile Communications Network’, or what we all know as GSM.
Since their introduction and initial paring with cellular phones in 1991, SIM cards have allowed users to save vital data like SMS messages and contacts whilst staying connected to a provider’s network for calls and SMS exchanges. Although a SIM card’s key features have remained the same, developments made to their functionality and adaptability have significantly enhanced their performance and application. While M2M SIM cards appear to be just like standard mobile SIM cards, they serve a different purpose and end user.
Connecting Machine-to-Machine (M2M) applications with SIM cards is not a new concept. When diving into the history of M2M technology you will often find yourself looking at topics that have a lot to do with the ‘Internet of Things’, or ‘IoT’. M2M applications have been around for a long time, however the biggest difference between the time they were first introduced and now, is the amount of human intervention it requires to get information from one point to another.
So, what does ‘M2M really mean? The term ‘Machine-to-Machine’ – which is what ‘M2M’ stands for – refers to automatized communication between end devices. For instance this could be communication between sensors and servers, location trackers and computers, or from a connected device to another technology that controls an action or transfers information. Machine-to-Machine data transfer and networking has been one of the central concepts of the increasingly widespread usage of Internet of Things applications and Industrial IoT.
The first SIM Card was created by Giesecke & Devrient, a German company specializing in security features for banknotes and smart cards. The first 300 of these new SIM Cards were purchased by Radiolinja – a Finnish cellular network operator – with the first GSM phone call taking place through Radiolinja’s network. That phone call is where the mass introduction of mobile phones, and the aggressive development of smart phones started.
The first SIM card design was large and rather heavy – it was the same physical size as a credit card, and had a storage capacity that ranged from 32 KB to 128 KB. These early SIM cards were therefore only able to store a small amount of data, roughly amounting to 5 SMS messages and contact details for 20 people.
Following a number of development and design updates, these ‘First Form Factor’ (or ‘1FF’) SIM cards were replaced by a smaller version, which came to be known as the ‘mini-SIM’ (or ‘2FF’). Every wireless device introduced in the early 90s could connect to a cellular provider network with a mini-SIM card, and placing the mini-SIM card into any wireless device provided early users with cellular connectivity advantages. One of these was increased storage capacity that allowed users to transfer contact lists and save SMS messages and owner details to another device just by swapping the SIM over.
The demand for (and development of) smaller, more robust wireless devices has grown significantly over the last couple of decades, and the introduction of smartphones and other ‘smart’ devices has brought new challenges for SIM card manufacturers and developers. This ever-growing demand drove SIM manufacturers to reduce the physical size of the SIM card once again – something they managed to do without reducing its primary processing capabilities – all while making the new ‘micro’ (or ‘3FF’) SIM cards able to adapt to newer connectivity technologies, and giving them an increase in storage space.
In 2012 – two years after the introduction of micro SIM cards – a further reduction in SIM card size was achieved and the ‘nano’ (or ‘4FF’) SIM card became available. It is this SIM card design that you’ll see in common use inside today’s smartphones and residential IoT devices.
The term ‘IoT M2M (or ‘Machine-to-Machine’) communication’ is used to describe the act of two or more machines exchanging data, often without human interference. These processes are usually facilitated by serial access, power line access, or an internet connection of some sort. M2M communication and data exchange has only been made easier by the advent of wireless connectivity, which allows a lot more devices to be connected to a network without the need for more physical infrastructure, and therefore, higher costs.
So, IoT M2M communication refers to interconnected devices using the internet to send and receive data. As enterprises recognize the importance of integrating more M2M communication into their processes, the network of devices M2M set-ups create has taken on a new name, and that’s the ‘Internet of Things’ or ‘IoT’.
Similar to M2M technology, IoT enables smart devices to connect with each other – which opens up the possibilities of actions being set up and automated. In turn, this means there is minimal need for human interference in business processes, thus increasing efficiency.
There is a common misconception that M2M SIMs and IoT SIMs are different and that you cannot use an M2M SIM for an IoT project. This is not so. A SIM card is essentially your gateway to wireless mobile network connectivity. The real difference comes in terms of maintenance and connectivity costs, how an enterprise programs their SIMs and what type of network these M2M SIMs connect to.
The core function of a SIM card can be identified by its name: ‘SIM’ stands for ‘Subscriber Identity Module’. The card stores data that is used for verification and then links the device it is inserted in to the GSM (Global System of Mobile Communications). Since the introduction of 2G, GSM has become the established standard, and developments in GSM’s capabilities fueled the advancement in SIM cards that we spoke about earlier. Ever since its creation, user demand for SIM cards has increased, and SIMs have become an important part of modern business models.
Although they have the same basic job as a standard SIM (that of user or device identification and authentication), M2M SIMs are used in an entirely different way. M2M SIM users often only use the non-voice SIM functions, with an emphasis on the sending and receiving of data and text prompts. This does not mean that M2M SIMs are unable to provide call functionality – but adding or making use of the voice option depends on the user’s M2M process set-up, along with the packages available through the cellular network provider. Based on the provider’s options and user’s choice, these SIMs can offer GPRS, 2G, 3G, and 4G connection. Machine-to-Machine SIM cards also allow users to buy data for their SIM base as a whole, in turn offering users the flexibility to use data across all of their linked M2M SIMs and devices, drawing their allowance from a single shared ‘pool’ – eliminating higher costs for over and under usage should individual SIM cards use more or less data than anticipated.
The short answer is YES.
eSIMs are also known as ‘Embedded’ SIMs. Because of their size and longevity, eSIMs are on their way to becoming the favored SIM cards among IoT users. They have similar functions as a standard M2M SIM card with one exception – eSIMs are built to be permanently located inside a device. In general, this means that the embedded M2M SIM card is soldered directly onto the device, but some devices do allow for eSIM insertion.
Embedding M2M SIMs prevents the SIM from being tampered with or modified by people. This makes an eSIM a more durable and secure option for IoT devices.
When we compare M2M SIM cards with regular cellular or mobile SIM cards, we see that an M2M SIM card has more to offer enterprise users. Machine-to-Machine SIMs or IoT SIMs provide more versatility and flexibility to users as regards the possibilities of connecting to an enterprise’s own private LTE network. Taking into account a user’s needs, M2M SIMs can be customized for seamless connectivity and heightened security.
So, what is it exactly that makes M2M SIM cards different, and better than a standard carrier SIM for business use?
M2M SIM cards are employed in projects with scalability in mind. For many enterprises, the implementation of IoT / M2M SIM cards is a tedious and cost-intensive task. One of the deciding factors for large enterprises is the added-value of having SIM cards attached to their IoT-enabled devices. Simply put, before buying these SIM cards in bulk, businesses carefully select a SIM card provider by checking their coverage within their area, network set-up and functionality, tariff costs and performing an evaluation of the provider’s future capacity for scalability.
Because of how M2M SIMs are used, and the average amount of SIMs purchased by users per transaction, manufacturers and SIM providers are able to offer M2M or IoT SIMs at a lower cost than your standard consumer SIM. IoT / M2M SIM cards are usually bought by big enterprises with large projects, and are hence often sold in bulk at a more affordable price than a standard mobile carrier SIM card. The other costs are often set by how much the user is willing to spend for functionality, connectivity requirements and the amount of data they need.
A number of M2M SIM cards can operate on the same cellular technology as a standard mobile carrier SIM card like the one in your phone – using 2G, 3G, 4G and the recent introduction of 5G technology. However, some specifications, such as LTE-M, NB-IoT, and LoRaWAN, have been developed specifically to address the requirements of complex Internet of Things environments. M2M SIM cards can be programmed to shift between different cellular networks based on parameters set by the business – this ensures optimal speed and connectivity of their IoT applications. Unlike standard cellular carrier-provided solutions, M2M SIM users are not limited to just one network provider or by existing roaming agreements. Multi-network M2M SIMs give enterprises access to networks across the globe, giving the user control over their connectivity and costs for global projects.
M2M SIM cards provide a reduced data rate, which means less cellular data and power is consumed by the device. Management tools and platforms also give users real-time control over the data M2M SIM cards consume and the amount of data an individual SIM or device uses over a given time period.
M2M SIM cards are designed to be more durable than a standard carrier SIM card because of the types of devices used and the environments they could end up operating in when deployed to IoT projects. Machine-to-Machine SIMs are built to be used in indoor or outdoor devices that can withstand harsher conditions and extreme temperatures, and for long periods of time too.
To gain remote access to an IoT device or IoT application, an enterprise may need SIMs that allow set IP addresses as an entry point. Users can then safely access the information on the device without needing to be physically near it, or needing someone to check the device on site. Devices that have a set IP address are easily accessed through an M2M SIM, which makes remote access a reliable and secure option, regardless of a SIM’s actual physical location. One of the biggest applications of this functionality is found in the global security and surveillance industry where such solutions are deployed in remote and temporary CCTV cameras.
With more stable access and wider coverage, an M2M SIM card can help minimize IoT device data transmission and response time. With proper installation, the user can set an M2M SIM card to connect to both public and private networks, allowing a device to remain connected even when its preferred network’s signal is weak, or otherwise inaccessible.
M2M SIM cards come in different shapes and sizes, which makes them easier to use in IoT solutions and devices. No matter whether it’s 1FF, 2FF, 3FF, 4FF, or an Embedded SIM, the various different sizes ensure that IoT device manufacturers and end-users can choose from a range of options, with different SIMs being better suited to certain devices, application types or deployment environments.
M2M SIM cards also provide users with the capability to monitor their SIM estate or SIM groups. The monitoring and management of SIMs is frequently done through a portal provided by your chosen carrier or SIM provider. With these SIM management portals, users can track the data usage, location, activities, and current status of any SIM in their estate, as well as other key parameters and variables too. Users can also easily activate and deactivate SIMs through their portal or dashboard. One key functionality IoT and M2M SIM users benefit from that we’ve already mentioned is their ability to buy data in bulk and use the data across all their active SIMs, and this management portal is where you’ll find your data usage figures – both for individual SIMs and your overall ‘data pool’ as a whole.
We can clearly see that it’s becoming more and more of a necessity for businesses to make use of the seamless networking and connectivity capabilities that M2M SIMs offer. IoT SIMs and Machine-to-Machine SIMs give users the flexibility they need to meet the connectivity and data needs of their projects, while also minimizing the problems brought by having multiple locations and requiring global reach.
M2M SIMs have the potential to make devices, businesses, and even entire industries smarter and more efficient – and the versatility and functionality of M2M SIM cards is already being put to work in many industries including the healthcare sector, fleet management, manufacturing and agriculture.